Is it my imagination, or has the Springfield Republican had remarkably little to say about the fast-impending retirement of its publisher, Larry McDermott?
The paper announced the 61-year-old McDermott’s retirement in the Dec. 15 issue, just a couple of weeks before he takes his leave. The article included the requisite good words from an executive at Advance Publications (owner of Newhouse Newspaper, which in turn owns the Republican), as well as some basic biographical information about him (college in Arkansas, a stint in the Army, time with the Associated Press). It also noted the various awards won by the newspaper during McDermott’s tenure, including the New England Newspaper Association’s First Amendment Award.
Indeed, the Republican has had an impressive record of fighting for access to public records; it’s also published some fantastic investigative reporting, such as, in recent years, Jack Flynn’s and Stephanie Barry’s work on public corruption and mob activity in the Springfield area.
But that, alas, is only part of the story: the paper also has had a shameful tradition of propping up undeserving pols (perhaps most egregiously, Mike Albano) and sandbagging those who fail to go along with its agenda. Just one example of the newspaper’s agenda getting in the way of rigorous journalism: its unwavering protection of the Springfield Library and Museums Association during years of valid concerns about its (taxpayer-supported) budget, and right up to its secretive decision to sell the Mason Square library branch to the Springfield Urban League. McDermott and his predecessor as publisher, David Starr (now the paper’s president), both sat on the SLMA’s board during that time—although you’d be hard-pressed to find that fact disclosed in their newspaper’s coverage of the organization.
I’ve never met McDermott. (In my 13 years covering Springfield, I’ve occasionally called him for comment on one story or another, although he never deigned to call me back.) But I have been treated to various stories about McDermott, some of them unverifiable (and unprintable), some just funny (like the time Springfield City Councilor Tim Rooke—a favorite target of the Republican—told me he’d sent McDermott a photo of a fish that Rooke and his kids had caught while on vacation, along with a note explaining that he planned to wrap their catch in a recent anti-Rooke editorial published in the paper). My editor, Tom Vannah, once started a column with the words, “You, Larry McDermott, are a jackass.” We later heard that McDermott dressed the part at a Valley Press Club roast.
News of McDermott’s retirement inspired blogger Tom Devine to share another story, one I’d somehow missed in all my years in the Valley, despite it being a nice little nugget of Advocate lore: when McDermott first came to Springfield in 1991, to serve as the Republican’s editor, Devine wrote, “The way most people were introduced to Larry McDermott was through a memo that was leaked to the Valley Advocate by someone who worked at the newspapers. In that memo McDermott gave a very unflattering appraisal of the Pioneer Valley and its citizens, saying that based on his first impressions, the area lacked character and vision. The newspaper never commented on the leaked memo, but also never denied it was real.”
Devine gives McDermott credit for several smart moves: promoting the work of columnist Tommy Shea; writing an “often interesting and entertaining weekly column.” But he also slams the publisher for his newspaper’s “stubborn support” of Albano, even as the FBI was circling his City Hall, and its refusal to acknowledge the fiscal mess the city had fallen into during that administration.
McDermott ascended to the Republican’s publisher job after eight years as its executive editor. This time, however, the paper’s parent company decided against promoting from within; rather than Wayne Phaneuf, the current executive editor, McDermott’s replacement will be George Arwady, publisher of the Newark Star-Ledger.
Arwady—who, at 62, is a year older than the retiring McDermott—takes over at a time of shrinking revenue, shrinking readership and shrinking circulation, at the Republican and throughout the print journalism industry. Indeed, rumors have been circulating around Springfield for months that Newhouse will pull the plug on the Republican if its prospects don’t change dramatically.
For all my many criticisms of the newspaper over the years, I really hope it survives. Imperfect as it is, the Republican is Springfield’s only daily paper, its paper of record, and it’s unthinkable that a city of this size and complexity would go without one.